The twenty-eighth episode of Columbo was titled Playback and was the fifth episode of the show’s fourth season. A disagreement between a man and his mother-in-law escalates dramatically as a murder is committed on camera. In this podcast Gerry and Iain look frame-by-frame at a story underpinned by new technology.
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Harold Van Wick (Oskar Werner) is the chief antagonist in this tale that borrows heavily from earlier Columbo episodes, from start to finish. Werner would have been known to audiences for a some memorable film roles in the 1960s, including an Oscar-nominated turn in 1965’s Ship of Fools. Never a prolific actor, he was nevertheless well-regarded for his work. He followed his Columbo appearance with one final role, earning a Golden Globe nomination for 1976’s Voyage of the Damned.
There was a relatively tight supporting cast in this episode. Martha Scott played Van Wick’s mother-in-law and victim Margaret Meadis in a brief but vigorous appearance, while Gena Rowlands played a more substantial part as Elizabeth Van Wick, Harold’s wheelchair-bound wife. Robert Brown‘s Arthur Meadis and Herb Jefferson Jr‘s Baxter completed the extended Van Wick household.
Patricia Barry and Trisha Noble played staff at the art gallery which served as both Harold’s alibi and the basis of his ultimate exposure. Columbo’s struggles with modern art provided an entertaining aside during the episode.
Bernard Kowalski returned for the third of his four stints behind the camera, while former Star Trek actor Booker T. Bradshaw combined with David P. Lewis to write the episode – neither would return to the show after this debut.
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Playback was released in 1975. It is 73 minutes long and originally aired on the NBC network. It can be viewed on Netflix in the United States and is available on DVD in other countries, including a comprehensive box set of all eleven seasons released by Universal.